[Report] Japan’s Decarbonization Technologies Hinder Net Zero Target


Climate analysis think tank TransitionZero has released the report “Coal-de-sac: Advanced Coal in Japan” which warns that extensive use of “advanced clean coal technologies” such as ammonia co-firing, coal gasification (integrated coal gasification combined cycle, or IGCC) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) may hamper Japan’s 2050 net-zero target.

Japan has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced at the COP26 climate conference in November 2021 that Japan intends to convert existing coal-fired power plants to zero emission power by utilizing unproven new technologies. Japan’s revised Sixth Strategic Energy Plan specifies that coal-fired power will still account for around 19% of the nation’s energy in 2030, and it is indicated that coal-fired power will continue to be used.

The Japanese government has positioned these technologies as “green innovation” that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, the largest anthropogenic source of climate change. However, TransitionZero points out that developing and promoting these technologies that will ultimately keep coal burning will prevent Japan from transitioning away from fossil fuels and undermine its own climate policies.

Key highlights of the report:

Advanced coal is high cost: The current Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for advanced coal technologies ranges from US$128/MWh (for IGCC applications) to US$296/MWh (for green ammonia co-firing). The average is around US$200/MWh, which is more than double that of solar PV projects. Even when including battery storage to manage the variable nature of renewable energy, solar PV and onshore wind was already cost-competitive against most advanced coal technologies in 2020.

Advanced coal technologies are inconsistent with net zero: In the IEA’s net zero emissions (NZE) scenario, the carbon intensity of the grid that should be achieved in Japan, as a developed country, is 138 gCO2/kWh by 2030. The carbon intensity of the new power generation technology without CCS (in the case of 20% ammonia co-firing) is 693 gCO2/kWh, which is more than five times higher and limits the emission reduction capacity.

CCS has considerable technical challenges: While CCS appears the most viable of the advanced coal technologies from an emissions intensity perspective, equipping CCS comes at a steep trade off, in terms of both financial viability and efficiency advancements. Also, Japanese limited geological storage potential means CCS is not a sustainable solution. Based on TransionZero’s analysis, Japan’s CO2 storage potential will be depleted in about a decade.

The report emphasizes that these new technologies for coal power generation, which the Japanese government is promoting with related businesses to develop and commercialize, are both costly and carbon-intensive, as they will prolong the life of coal-fired power plants even if they can achieve trace emission reductions. The report then outlines policy recommendations for Japan’s decarbonization, including an urgent reassessment of the role of coal-fired power.

The full report is available here:

Coal-de-sac: Advanced Coal in Japan
Report: The role of advanced coal technologies in decarbonising Japan’s electricity sector(Link